International
Federation for
Housing and
Planning

Knowledge as a change maker

The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá: In Bogotá, public libraries play a major role as symbols of knowledge and education for all.

Before the Peñalosa administration took over in 1998, there was only one public library in Bogotá. It was Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango (1958) situated in the inner city district La Candelaria. In the poor neighborhoods surrounding the city, free access to books, knowledge and Internet was only a dream.

Enrique Peñalosa decided to change this. He saw public libraries as a tool to restore citizen dignity and wanted to create public spaces free from consumption and money-spending. Libraries were built as democratic ‘cathedrals of knowledge’ to show Bogotá and the rest of Colombia that the values of university teachers are worth more than the material values of drug dealers.

In Peñalosa’s 3 year period as mayor (1998-2001), he managed to build 3 main public libraries and ensure the financing for a fourth library that was completed after his term. Besides this, numerous local libraries were constructed in poor areas that previously had no access to free knowledge and Internet.

El Tintal Library
The most impressive of the public libraries in Bogotá is El Tintal Library in the Kennedy district. The library is a beautiful converted garbage processing plant, which has kept the ramp where trucks formerly dumped their loads. The ramp creates a ceremonial entry to the sky-lighted reading room for adults on the second floor. The library is built by Daniel Bermudez Samper, one of Colombia’s finest architects.

Each month, the public libraries in Bogotá are frequented by approximately 400,000 children and adults who use the spacious facilities as a retreat from their often crowded homes in low-income barrios. In the libraries they can do their homework, relax, read, use computers and spend time together regardless of their social status or income.

 

Read also:
>> How cities are born
>> Doism in Bogotá: Río de colores
>> Colombia - social stratification by law
>> Bogotá – city of change 
>> The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá